HMS Bulwark returns home for Christmas

Hundreds of happy families and friends welcomed home their loved ones on board HMS Bulwark today (Wednesday) as the ship returned home from a three-month deployment in time for Christmas.

The crew of  the Royal Navy’s amphibious flagship HMS Bulwark arrived to a warm welcome fit for heroes after the successful amphibious flagship role with the Royal Navy’s Joint Expeditionary Force (Maritime) Task Group in the Middle East and Mediterranean.

The Navy still has 3,700 personnel deployed or on duty over Christmas, and at least 18 ships and submarines away from home.

HMS Bulwark re-entered her baseport HM Naval Base Devonport, Plymouth, with her crew lining the deck on parade as about 600 joyous banner-waving families and friends lined the jetty to cheer them home, heralded by a helicopter flypast and gunfire salute.

Captain James Parkin, the Captain of HMS Bulwark said: “It’s wonderful to see so many happy smiling faces welcoming us home. My amazing ship’s company deserve a special Christmas with their families and friends.’’

Marine Barry Cannon, of Plymouth, swept his twin sons Jack and Oliver, aged three, off their feet as they gave him a loud welcome.  Barry, serves with the ship’s assault group of Royal Marines and arrived into the naval base ahead of his ship on one of his landing craft.  

Barry said: “It’s really good to be back home. The boys have changed a bit – they are talking a lot more now they’ve started nursery since I’ve been away. To be honest I’ve missed them ever since I left on the deployment.’’

Barry’s wife Kirsty said: “It’s been hard at home alone with with the boys. For the first time now they are old enough to understand Christmas. They thought daddy was out catching pirates with Father Christmas! Barry’s been on this deployment for about four times over four years, but it’s wonderful he’s back in time for the Christmas break.’’

It’s wonderful to see so many happy smiling faces welcoming us home. My amazing ship’s company deserve a special Christmas with their families and friends

Captain James Parkin, the Captain of HMS Bulwark

First off the ship to rush onto the jetty and into the arms of his girlfriend Danielle, 22, and his baby Daisy was Able Seaman Mike Howell, 25. The honour of being the first off was his after he won a a charity auction in aid of the Royal Navy/Royal Marine Charity.

Mike, a steward from Plymouth, said: “I’m so happy to be back home and see Daisy again. She’s not a true baby any more. I’m not sure she recognises me yet, but she’s grown a lot. Christmas is going to be extra special – Daisy’s first.’’

Danielle said: “It’s double celebration today – Daisy’s first birthday and her dad back home with us. We’ll have a really good Christmas now he’s home. But it will have to wait until after the 25th because, unfortunately, he’s on duty over Christmas.’’

Captain Parkin added: “HMS Bulwark has had a fantastic deployment. From demanding amphibious operations, through engagement with our partners and allies in the Mediterranean and Middle East, to being constantly ready for emergent tasking, my sailors and Royal Marines have been outstanding ambassadors for the United Kingdom. They, and their forebears over the last five years of this operating period, have delivered a ship with an outstanding reputation for getting the job done in the Royal Navy and far beyond.”

Remaining ready for any contingency, the task group took part in amphibious exercises off Albania and Egypt before heading through the Suez Canal and conducting further exercises in Oman. HMS Bulwark then spent a short period training the Somaliland Coastguard, before returning home via Haifa in Israel, where she hosted senior dignitaries from the Israeli government and Armed Forces. 

Lieutenant Commander James Robey, the ship’s navigating officer said: “As my first time navigating a capital ship, during the expeditionary force deployment, this has been a wonderful and challenging experience. It’s not every day you are at the heart of the nation’s Task Group.”

HMS Bulwark has now steamed nearly a quarter of a million nautical miles since entering service in 2004 – 14,000 of fleet, they have run marathons, sold poppies and baked cakes to raise funds for a variety of charities, and have donated nearly £14000 to good causes over the last 12 months - including an outstanding 65 mile run in 12 hours around the upper deck by Marine Ryan Joslin.

Last week the ship even held an “auction of promises”, which raised over £4,000 alone for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity, with lots including being first off the ship on return from deployment, acting as captain for the day.  

In the course of the deployment, the crew have eaten their way through 20 tonnes of potatoes and 3 tonnes of baked beans, and drunk tea from 23,000 tea bags.

As well as HMS Bulwark, the Joint Expeditionary Force (Maritime) Task Group also consisted of helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, supported by the MOD strategic vessel, MV Eddystone.  Destroyers and frigates from the Royal Navy, US and French Navies also joined the force at various points.  

Elements of the Lead Commando Group, from 42 Commando Royal Marines from Bickleigh in Plymouth, were embarked together with an air group consisting of Merlin helicopters.